How to Improve Performance

What Can Affect Performance?

Some days everything is going well: you’re hitting personal records, getting new moves, and feeling very energized. Then the next day, suddenly you can’t even do what you did last week. This is pretty normal. A lot of little things can have an impact on your performance. It varies from person to person too, but these are the things I’ve noticed affect me.

Negative impactOptimal performance
bad night’s sleep (this compounds)being rested (a good night’s sleep, not too much activity or stress the day or two before)
being dehydratedbeing hydrated (just drinking a lot right before exercise is not enough, it needs to be spread out)
no food before exercise (or alternatively, a very large meal right before)having a small meal/snack involving carbs 60-90 minutes before exercise
not exercising for >= 4 dayswhen I have exercised in the past couple of days, but not too strenuously
being stressed in general, or even rushing to get to classfeeling happy and energetic (about life in general. A bit of caffeine can also help)
feeling hungover/under the weather/recovering from and illnessnot feeling thirsty, hungry, too sore, or ill
bad time of month (for women. The worst for me seems to be right before & during shark week)good time of month (currently estimating this to be at the halfway point)
hot or bad weathergood, medium temperature
an uncomfortable outfit (for example, leggings that keep sliding down and annoying me)feeling good about how I look
serious DOMSbeing very mildly sore
feeling distracted and not paying attentiona little bit of pressure and wanting to impress, but not too much
(especially long-haul) flight a day or two before (biggest effect is on back flexibility)
for me, in the afternoon (I don’t feel as ready in the morning unless I’ve had coffee and breakfast, and sometimes I’m too tired or distracted in the evening)
good company, feeling encouraged by an instructor

How to Optimize

Based on all this, I’ve established some guidelines for how often and when to train:

  • Train at least 3 but not more than 6 days a week, and space out the most intense sessions accordingly.
  • If I don’t exercise at all for >=4 days, I start feeling like my muscles are atrophying. Exercise doesn’t have to be yoga/full body; a hike or a swim can prevent this feeling. This is worsened if I’m flying during those days. If I start off sore (DOMS), then it takes longer (5 days).
  • Soreness usually lasts for 2 days; if it’s bad, it can also be 3, and very rarely longer. If it’s mild it can be gone within a day or two. This is another reason why I tend to space out very active sessions with more relaxed or restorative ones.
  • Every so often (for me, every 2 months on average), it’s good to take a longer rest (at least 3 days, occasionally even more, e.g. 1 or 2 weeks of only light exercise) to give the muscles lots of time to heal. Surprisingly you can come back immediately stronger after such a break.

I also pay attention to other factors that influence performance:

  • Sleep is one of the most important things.
  • Getting enough rest.
  • Trying to reduce stress in other areas of life.
  • Drinking a lot of non-alcoholic fluids, and eating relatively healthily most of the time.

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